Pumpkin Chia Muffins

It’s the time of year when you feel like you should be doing something with pumpkin.  This combined with the fact that I suddenly have a teenager in the house who is getting up ten minutes before she has to leave for school and thinking she can just rush out the door with nothing in her stomach and…

(Hand over mouth)…..MOM?!

Anyway, I put the two problems together and searched out a pumpkin breakfast muffin recipe.  I found this one from Dr. Oz’s site and I have made them four times in four weeks.  Right now I have a double batch going, they’re that popular.

These have no end of good things in them, and you can tweak the recipe to get as many good things in there as you like.  The original recipe, doubled, calls for 2 cups whole wheat flour and 1 cup of white flour.  But you can make this into 3 cups of virtually any kind of grains or flours.  I mean literally.  Anything.  You might not have the fluffiest, most domed muffins, but I’ve never made the recipe with the same flour twice and it always works and tastes great.  So tonight, for example, my 3 cups are made of:

1/2 cup flaxseed meal

1/2 cup almond meal

1/2 cup white flour

1 1/2 cups wheat flour

Dr. Oz’s recipe also called for olive oil; I subbed coconut oil because I am an addict.  I also used regular sugar instead of the agave because agave isn’t something I keep around.  You can tweak this to your heart’s content depending on your religious beliefs.

I also added dark chocolate chips because duh.

Pumpkin Chia Muffins

(Single batch recipe below, makes 12 muffins plus an annoying dollop of batter you don’t know what to do with)

  • 1 tbsp chia seeds
  • 1 cup whole-wheat or whole-grain flour plus 1/2 cup white flour (OR 1 1/2 cups of whatever flours/meals you like)
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger (ginger!  not the garlic powder!  don’t ask!)
  • 2 tsp baking soda (when using almond meal and flaxseed meal, I throw another 1/2 tsp in)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 can (16-oz) pumpkin
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup coconut oil (or olive oil, or canola)
  • 1/2 cup agave nectar (or 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup sugar; I made it a scant 1/2 cup because I was using chocolate chips)
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 1/2 cup walnuts or pecans (Optional)
  • 3/4 cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350

Combine dry ingredients in one bowl, wet ingredients in another.

Combine dry and wet and stir in chocolate chips.

Bake 25-30 minutes until tester comes out dry.

Serve as they’re flying out the door to the bus stop.

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World’s Best Gingerbread. Really.

The other day called for Gingerbread.  I hung up the phone.  The day called back and said “Chocolate Gingerbread.”

I said, “Speaking.”

IMG_5133It’s fall, it’s a thing with me to make gingerbread when it’s red and orange and golden outside and I’m wearing my boots.  Usually my go-to is Laurie Colwin’s recipe but I was in the mood to expand my horizons and see what else was out there in the world.

I found the world’s best at a blog called The English Kitchen.

Now I do realize that when you throw around words like “world” and “best” then you better damn well deliver.  This recipe delivers.  If this isn’t the world’s best damn gingerbread, it’s pretty damn close.  It’s everything the author says it is:  “no-fail, bakes up deliciously moist, the perfect blend of spice and heat, and it tastes better and better with each day that passes.”

The author gives her gingerbread a lemon glaze.  I put my twist on it by adding cocoa powder.  Frankly it needs nothing.  It needs nothing and gives everything.  That is the world’s best gingerbread.

World’s Best Gingerbread (really) from “The English Kitchen”

  • 1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 heaping tbsp Hershey Special Dark Cocoa Powder (optional)
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/4 cups boiling water
  • 1/4 dark treacle and 1/2 cup Golden syrup (I have no idea what treacle is; I already had Lyle’s Golden syrup from when I make Laurie Colwin’s recipe, but only just 1/2 cup.  I used 1/4 cup molasses for the treacle to get to the 3/4 cup.  The English Kitchen says you can use all molasses, so don’t sweat it)
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 6 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1 large egg

Preheat the oven to 350.  Butter and flour a 9 inch square baking tin, or spray with Pam.

Add the treacle/molasses and syrup to the boiling water along with the baking soda.  Set aside and let cool to room temperature.

Whisk together the flour, spices, cocoa, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.

Cream together the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy.  Beat in the egg.  Add the cooled syrup mixture to the creamed mixture.  Stir in the dry ingredients only to blend and note this is very liquid batter, don’t be alarmed!

Pour batter into the prepared baking pan.  Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until well risen and the top springs back when lightly touched, or a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Serve warm, or pick at it in the middle of the night.  It’s divine.

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The Truth About Mousse

My friend Ami posted this link to an article in Huffington Post about how social media can seriously stress you out.  Things we pin on Pinterest and things we choose to Facebook and Tweet can easily blur the line between what is real and what is perceived as real.  Someone’s picture or post that captures a seemingly perfect little moment of life can either genuinely move you, or leave you with the feeling that no matter what you do, someone else is doing it cooler.  Someone is more organized, more creative with their solutions, more environmentally responsible…they make more nutritious meals, they have more patience, less anxiety.  They just do it better…

They don’t.

Life on social media is a cleverly crafted illusion.  A web of avatars.  What is put forth is chosen to be put forth and what is kept behind is sacrosanct and a mystery.  But the truth does exist amongst the pins, posts and pictures.  What you put aside with “someday I’ll do that,” can be done today.  I’m here to help.

Who hasn’t seen this little meme circulating around:

fruitpop2

Homemade fruit pops.  Good, and good for you.  You pin it.  You’ll say you’ll do it someday.  But is it real?  Do they actually work?

They do.  I did it.  You don’t need a recipe, you just need common sense.  If you have fruit, pop molds and a food processor or blender, you can do it.  If I can do it, you can do it:

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20130521-124016.jpg  fruitpop

They work.  These are truth.  If you want to sub greek yogurt for the pureed watermelon, they will also work and be truthful.

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rasperry mousseNow.  Has anyone seen this going around?  Coconut and raspberry mousse.  Doesn’t that look amazing?  Can’t you just taste it?  I mean seriously, you only have to look at that mass of fuscia goodness and your mouth just waters.  In the article, the author describes how she barely got a spoonful out of the blender before the entire family fought over it on the kitchen floor!  And you can totally believe that this is something worth fighting for.  You’ll whip yourself up an entire blender-ful after the kids are asleep and eat it all yourself, right?

Wrong.

Lies.

Propoganda.

I am here to tell you the truth.

20130521-123301.jpgThe recipe seems innocent enough:  1 avocado, 1 frozen banana, 1 cup of frozen raspberries, and 1 heaping tablespoon of coconut milk.  Blend and serve.  That’s it.  Simple.  Brilliant.  And beautiful and pink and yum.  Right?

Wrong.

Now I do admit I used strawberries here but I didn’t think it was going to be a game-changer.  And I wondered what “heaping tablespoon” of coconut milk actually meant but I figured it meant you pour over the food processor and let it spill over the sides of the tablespoon for like two seconds.  How scientific does this need to be?

Ah, but science will get you in the end.  An avocado is green.  A frozen banana is tan.  You’re already two strikes down and no amount of red berries will overcome the natural free-flowing tendency of these two already dun-colored fruits to turn brown when exposed to air.

Behold:

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Let’s see those two shots side-by-side, shall we?

Theirs

Illusion

Truth

Truth

As for taste?  It was thoroughly okay.  Texture was nice.  The coconut was totally lost.  I certainly wouldn’t fight for it on the kitchen floor.  I poured some of it into pop molds and the rest went onto the compost.

20130521-124030.jpgIn life there is no right or wrong, no winners and losers.  Nobody’s cooler than you, nobody’s better than you, everyone is making it up.  All you have is the truth about who you are and what you feel.  Live the truth.  And then strain some of that watermelon puree into a glass, add a shot of vodka, and just be.

Black Sesame Pear Tea Cake

This cake is weird.

I’m just gonna put it out there, right up front, this is a weird cake from Bon Appetit.  But in making it, I am reminded of an episode of Chopped where Alex Guarnaschelli was judging, and man, she is mean, she is tough, but she is honest.  And it was down to the dessert round and I forget what the ingredients were but she was faced with a plate of some kind of avocado mousse thing.  And with that narrowed-eyed expression of doom she looked at the chef who made it and said, “This dessert makes no sense…”  Then her eyes softened and she continued, “…and I’ve eaten almost all of it.”

This cake is weird.  Everyone says so.  It’s weird, it makes no sense, and everyone in the house is eating it.  So you try it, you be the judge.

This is ever-so-slightly labor intensive, with the added stress of needing a spice grinder to grind the sesame seeds.  Some of you will have had the dubious honor of being on a Facebook thread I posted while in the mall, wondering if a spice grinder was redundant with something I already owned.  Like, the food processor.  But I was gently encouraged to buy, if not an actual spice grinder, then a separate coffee grinder for spices, and the investment was worth making.  Sears was having a sale, so I bought a coffee grinder.

This cake is also made in a loaf pan, and may I offer you some advice?  If you set out to make a cake in a loaf pan, please be sure you do in fact own one.  Don’t just assume you own one.  I mean, it’s understandable, of course you own one, who doesn’t?  C’mon, when was the last time you made a banana bread or a meat loaf?  In the loaf pan!  Right!  You have one!

I didn’t have one.  Did I lend it to you, by any chance?  If I did, please give it back.  In the meantime, I made this in 9×9 baking dish and it was totally fine.

Weird Black Sesame Pear Tea Cake

  • IMG_61291/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more
  • 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup almond flour or almond meal
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup black sesame seeds (note right here – if I ever make this cake again, I will take the 1/2 cup to a 1/3 cup.  The sesame presence was very strong, in an almost…”dusty” way.  Maybe that’s not the word but it was this barest trace of bitterness, not enough to be unpleasant or inedible, but enough to make you go, “Hmm….weird”)
  • 1 1/3 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1 (medium) firm but ripe Bosc pear, peeled, cored, cut into 1/4-inch cubes (and another note – it was Panda’s observation that the cake needed more pear, and I agree with her.  If I make it again, I will use two)

Preheat oven to 325°. Butter, or spray with Pam, a 9 x 5 x 3 loaf pan or a 9 x 9 baking pan.

Whisk 1 1/2 cups flour, almond meal, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and 2 tbsp sesame seeds in a medium bowl. Grind remaining 1/2 cup sesame seeds in spice mill to form a thick paste, about 2 minutes.

Using an electric mixer, butter and 1 1/3 cups sugar in a large bowl until well combined, 2–3 minutes. Add sesame paste and beat, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl, until blended, 1–2 minutes.

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Weird.  Add egg and egg yolk. Beat until pale and fluffy, 3–4 minutes. On low speed, beat in flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with buttermilk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients.

Toss pear with remaining 2 tbsp. flour in a small bowl; fold into batter.  The batter is grey.  Yes indeed it is.

Spoon batter into prepared pan; smooth top. Sprinkle with remaining 2 Tbsp. sugar

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Bake until a tester comes out clean when inserted into center, about 1 hour.

Let cool on wire racks and serve.

See what happens…

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Christmas Cookies 2012: New Recruits

Another year, another successful cookie binge.  I can’t make one more.  OK, I could, but I can’t, I’m so done, I’m sugar-coated.

This year rounded up the usual suspects, my tried-and-true friends:

Chocolate Crackles

Chocolate Gingerbread

Spice Stars

Lemon Poppyseed

And then we had some rookie cookies join the lineup, some good, some great, some neither.

cassiscrispsLet’s start with Cassis Crisps, which looked like they would be good but turned out to be thoroughly OK.  They are a basic roll-and-cut cookie, the dough is flavored with creme de cassis – a currant flavored liqueur – and sprinkled with sanding sugar.  The original recipe has you hand-cut them into squares, but I got really ambitious and cut mine with a swan-shaped cutter, and figured I could really get my Martha on by making a paper stencil to sand just the wings.  Seven swans a sanding.  Har har.  This was an epic fail after six swans, and I got mad and just pelted the rest whichever way.  In the end the cookies just didn’t taste like anything interesting.  So here is the recipe, have at it, maybe you can make bourbon crisps or peppermint schnaps crisps or something.

IMG_5770  IMG_5769

IMG_5766Next were chocolate-orange-espresso thins which taste amazing, and the kids surprised me by totally mauling them.  The flavor is really terrific, my only complaint was that they’re the kind of cookie where you  make the dough into a log, chill it, and then cut it into rounds.  For some reason, I suck at this.  It totally stresses me out.  So I made a batch that way, rolling the dough log in sanding sugar before I sliced it so the cookies were edged, and they were great; but then I adapted another recipe for a roll-and-cut method, cut stars and sprinkled them with the sanding sugar.  In my opinion, they came out even better, and the cook was less stressed.  In the link I give you both methods, you can decide.

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orangehazelnutLast is orange-hazelnut shortbread which is knock-it-0ut-of-the-park, punch-the-wall AWESOME.  Panda gets credit, she picked it out of the magazine and I first I went eh? because of the labor-intensiveness of roasting hazelnuts and zesting oranges.  Don’t listen to me.  TOTALLY WORTH IT.  This was my lunch today.

So that’s the cookie lineup for 2012.  Tomorrow is the last day before break so tonight we were busy bagging and boxing them up for teachers and aides.  By the way, whoever introduced decorative Chinese food containers into the market, thank you, what a lifesaver.

Happy Holidays!

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Orange-Hazelnut Shortbread

There are two methods to getting the skins off hazelnuts, and this link will give you both.  One is to roast them and rub the skins off in a dishtowel; the other is to blanch them first, rub the skins off in the sink, and then roast them.  I found the latter technique much, much easier.

  • 1 1/2 cups hazelnuts (about 6 ounces), toasted, skins removed (or vice-versa)
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated orange zest
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 2 tablespoons sanding sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees with racks in upper and lower thirds. Process nuts in a food processor until finely chopped, about 20 seconds (do not overprocess). Transfer nuts to a large bowl; add flour, granulated sugar, butter, zest, and salt. Mix with hands until dough just comes together and forms a ball.

Halve dough; shape each into a disk. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. With lightly floured hands, shape 1 disk into a 7-inch round, and score to mark 12 equal wedges (do not cut through). Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sanding sugar. Repeat with remaining disk and sanding sugar.

Bake, rotating halfway through, until golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. While shortbread is warm, cut wedges to separate completely. Let wedges cool slightly on sheets, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Gingerbread

I have a few favorite books that I faithfully read every year, usually in the fall.  Among them:  Rumer Godden’s In This House of Brede; Elizabeth Ehrlich’s Miriam’s Kitchen; and Laurie Colwin’s twin masterpieces, Home Cooking and More Home Cooking.  I was in bed with the latter two this weekend (I love writing that), dreaming of comforting things to eat now that the tiniest bit of chill is in the evening air, and now that I am a touch more inclined to make dessert.

Like gingerbread.  Says Colwin:

The sad fact is that gingerbread is on the decline, although it is alive and well in the children’s books of the fifties, where cheerful housewives wait at home for the arrival of their hungry children at three o’clock, ready with a great big pan of warm gingerbread and some ice-cold milk.

You do not need to be  housebound mother to make gingerbread.  All you need is to put aside an hour or so to mix up the batter and bake it, and then, provided you do not have a huge mob waiting to devour the gingerbread immediately, it will pay you back for a few days because it gets better as it ages.  I myself never have any around long enough to age, but my English cookbooks assure me that a few days make all the difference.

Colwin then offers her personal thoughts on gingerbread, namely that the more ginger the better, and molasses should never be used because it is too bitter.  She prefers pure cane syrup and endorses that made by the C. S. Steen Syrup Mill.  Of course her books were written in 1992 and she helpfully offers the reader the address and phone number of said company.  Ten years later, you simply can go to their website if you wish to order syrup.  Colwin also advocates Lyle’s Golden Syrup which is available in most grocery stores and I myself have some in the cupboard but only because I’ve made this gingerbread before.

Colwin gives two gingerbread recipes in More Home Cooking, and I go with the one from Delia Smith’s Book of Cakes, which is called “Damp Gingerbread.”  I could call it “Moist Gingerbread” and watch the majority of my girlfriends go screaming from the room.  But I won’t.  However I will give you my own little tweaks and modifications as we get down to business and get to perfuming your kitchen.

Damp Gingerbread

  • 9 tbsp butter (that’s one stick plus one tablespoon from a second stick)
  • 12 oz Lyle’s Golden Syrup (that’s 1 1/2 cups and a little bit annoying because Lyle’s comes in an 11 oz bottle.  I use 1 cup of the golden syrup and scant 1/2 cup of Grandma’s molasses, and do so without a trace of bitterness)
  • 2 cups plus 2 tbsp flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tbsp ground ginger (can be a level spoon or a heaping spoon, depending on your taste)
  • 3/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tbsp dark cocoa powder (this is optional but when I said I was going to make gingerbread, Panda asked if it could be chocolate gingerbread, and how could I refuse?)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 heaping tablespoon fresh ginger (and stop me if you’ve heard this before, but if you are a ginger person, Spice World’s bottled pressed ginger could and should be one of your very best friends, and see funny story at the end of the post)

Preheat oven to 350.  Grease a baking dish with butter or spray with Pam.

Melt butter, golden syrup and molasses in a saucepan and set aside

Sift flour, salt, baking soda, cocoa powder and spices into a mixing bowl and set aside

In a separate small bowl, whisk egg, milk and pressed ginger

Pour syrup and butter onto dry ingredients and mix well.  Add egg-milk-ginger mixture and mix well.  The batter will be very liquid: this is damp gingerbread.

Pour into baking pan and bake for 50-55 minutes until the middle is just set with the edges pulling away from the sides of the dish.   Your kitchen is going to smell amazing and don’t be surprised if you feel inclined to string up some lights and create a holiday station on Pandora.  At the very least you should light a candle.

Cool for ten minutes before turning out.

Serve with a dollop of whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, or just eat it straight out of the pan.  Try to save some, wrapped in foil, because it really does improve with age.

*Funny story about bottled ginger:  I was in Stop & Shop yesterday, trawling the produce section where I know they keep those jars of ginger.  They are usually on the lower shelves beneath the bins, cozied up with the bags of apple chips and the jars of minced garlic and the bags of pine nuts.  But they weren’t there.  I scoured every last lower shelf and then went over to the ethnic aisle, thinking maybe they’d moved in with the Asian ingredients.  No, not there either.  I checked the produce section one more time and then finally asked a clerk.  He wrinkled his eyebrows, asked if I didn’t mean ginger root?  No, I said, it was bottled fresh ginger.  He asked another clerk.  Clerk2 said yes, the bottled stuff, he knew what I meant but he hadn’t seen it stocked lately.  Had I tried the ethnic aisle?  Yes I had.  Clerk2 apologized, as did Clerk1, and I thanked them both and moved on.  As I was passing the refrigerated display of bagged lettuce and other salad stuff, AH-HAH!!!  There they were!  Hiding!  “Hey!” I called out happily to Clerk1 and Clerk2, holding up my prize, “Found it!”  And they just seemed really happy about it, and apologized again for not knowing their own section.  They were cute.  It’s these little things that make your day.